La Salle lawyer Anthony Raccuglia was a bulldog.
"He believed in his clients," said his paralegal of 23 years, Belinda Pittman, choosing the word to describe him. "He'd fight tooth and nail for them."
Trying cases of medical malpractice, in which 10% of all cases end in a verdict or settlement, determination was necessary for success. And his work led to groundbreaking six- and seven-figure judgments and settlements.
That dedication is why colleagues recognized him as being at the top of his profession from the day he started law school more than 60 years ago, to the date of his death Saturday at the age of 85.
While Raccuglia was a litigator for five decades, he is known for prosecuting the Starved Rock murders — one of the highest profile cases in Illinois history.
Decades later, he continued to write letters and travel to Springfield year after year to keep convicted Starved Rock murderer Chester Weger imprisoned.
"Almost 60 years ago, Tony Raccuglia came into our lives at one of the saddest times in the history of our family. Over the past six decades, he has been our defender, our educator and our guardian angel," said Diane Oetting, a granddaughter of one of the victims of the Starved Rock murders.
Raccuglia's dedication to his career was only the beginning; he was devoted to his family. He is the father of four children: daughter Cynthia, now a circuit court judge in the 13th District; daughter Shirley, who died in 1968; son David, who is the founder of American Crew hair line; and son Damon, who is a day trader.
"He was the patriarch of the Raccuglias," said his legal partner of more than 30 years, James A. McPhedran. "Indeed, I feel his dedication and love for the legal profession was surpassed only by the love he had for his entire family. He loved all of them very much."
Born Sept. 4, 1933, and raised in La Salle, law was not Raccuglia's first choice.
After playing minor league baseball with the old Washington Senators (now the Minnesota Twins), he was drafted by the Army during the Korean War in 1953.
Taking advice from a teacher, he put himself on track to become a lawyer. He attended La Salle-Peru-Oglesby Junior College (now Illinois Valley Community College), graduated from the University of Illinois and finished No. 1 in his class at John Marshall Law School in Chicago.
During his time in law school, he also held a full-time job.
"He'd study on the 'L' train after work and the driver would wake him up at his stop," Pittman said.
Growing up from humble roots inspired him to become a charitable and philanthropic person. He was giving to toy drives and food pantries during Christmastime and supported several community organizations.
"He was very generous with people," Pittman said. "I recall one woman who had cancer, but she didn't have enough money for treatment. He forwarded the money to her to keep her on therapy, and he never wanted anyone to know. That was him."
In 1960, about one year after graduation, he was appointed La Salle County's first assistant state's attorney. He led the successful prosecution in the Starved Rock murders case, in which three suburban women were killed.
After eight years, he started his 53-year career as a litigator, practicing to the day he died. A "lawyer's lawyer," meaning he was well-respected among colleagues, he was given the Leonard Ring Award from the Illinois Trial Lawyers Association and the Laureate Award from the Illinois State Bar Association.
"It speaks to him that after 60 years, he continued to work at such a high level," McPhedran said. "Last week, we were still planning on trying cases before juries over the summer."
He valued community, taking pride in serving as La Salle's city attorney since 1989.
IVCC President Jerry Corcoran remembers Raccuglia giving the commencement address at the community college two months after he was named president.
"I got to know a lot about him in a hurry," Corcoran said. "I could tell he was a special individual and brilliant obviously. He accomplished a lot of success in his life. He grew up playing baseball and attended LPO, he certainly appreciated the value of the community college. And he spoke so eloquently, I was almost moved to tears."
His law office, Anthony C. Raccuglia & Associates, ranked as his second family, his employees working with him for more than two decades each.
"He always called us his second family," Pittman said. "He was a wonderful man, and a great boss."
Right up there with his loyalty to his family and office co-workers was the bond he had with clients and a drive to succeed for them.
"He had an unbridled passion for the profession," McPhedran said. "He was an aggressive advocate for his clients. He was a warrior for them, but with respect for the profession."
Overhearing Pittman refer to Raccuglia as a "bulldog," however, McPhedran quipped: "I wish I would've said that one."